Manuel Pellegrini has criticised Uefa for allowing Wednesday night's Champions League fixture against CSKA Moscow to go ahead on a threadbare pitch that the Manchester City manager described as "unbelievable". CSKA were prevented from playing their previous Champions League game against Viktoria Plzen at the Khimki Arena three weeks ago because of the state of the surface and Pellegrini expressed his amazement that Uefa had not reached the same decision again.
With large areas of the pitch bare and grass seed sitting on the surface, Pellegrini went as far as to predict that the match would have to be postponed if there was heavy rainfall in the Russian capital before kick-off. Although the weather forecast suggests a downpour is unlikely, the promise of a bitterly cold and dry night in Moscow will do little to satisfy Pellegrini, who believes that Uefa has made an error of judgment by giving CSKA the green light to play a match on a pitch that has not been used for more than a month.
The Khimki Arena has been out of use since 21 September because the pitch had to undergo extensive repair work as a result of CSKA and Dynamo Moscow playing their home games at the same venue during a period of heavy rain. With the Luzhniki Stadium unavailable because it is being rebuilt in readiness for the 2018 World Cup finals, CSKA have played recent home league matches in two other venues in Moscow and were forced to take on Plzen in St Petersburg.
Uefa, however, carried out an inspection at the Khimki Arena at the end of last week and, much to the dismay of Pellegrini, who described the surface as "not a grass pitch", the governing body was satisfied that it was in good enough condition to host a Champions League fixture.
"I just saw the pitch. I think it's unbelievable that the most important cup competition in the world is allowed to be played on this pitch," Pellegrini said. "We must pray on Wednesday that it's not raining. If it's raining, it will be impossible to play on this pitch. It could be called off. I didn't believe it when I saw the pitch. For the two teams, and also for the people who will watch the game, this is the most important competition in the world and it deserves a better pitch. If it is not raining, it is not a risk for injury. It is a very good ground pitch, not a good grass pitch."
Asked if he was surprised by Uefa's decision, Pellegrini replied: "Of course I'm surprised. I'm surprised because they were not allowed to play the other game here against Plzen. I think the people from Uefa who reviewed the pitch, without hesitation they should have said it cannot be played here."
City trained at the Khimki Arena on Tuesday night, despite CSKA requesting that the Premier League club find an alternative venue to protect the surface.
There was, however, no ill-feeling about City's decision. CSKA, who have lost five of their last seven matches in all competitions, are embarrassed about the state of the pitch and believe it would benefit from no football for at least another month. "I suppose the quality of the pitch is equal to the quality of our latest results," Leonid Slutski, the CSKA manager, said.
Uefa issued a statement in response to the criticism: "The pitch has been monitored and inspected over the last weeks and has been deemed playable, even if it might not look impeccable aesthetically. It has recently been considerably improved thanks to the intensive work of the groundsmen and we are confident the match will be played under good conditions."
For Yaya Touré, who tried to offer some perspective by pointing out "in Africa, we have worse pitches there", the focus needs to be on picking up three crucial points, rather than any potential problems the surface will present. City and CSKA have both lost to Bayern Munich and beaten Viktoria Plzen, which means the back-to-back games in Moscow and Manchester across the next fortnight are likely to determine who finishes runners-up in Group D. "If you have to play on [the pitch], we will play on it," Touré said. "The most important thing for us is to try and win the game."